Pixish = Spec-ish?

Whoooh, busy time here at no-spec.com, what with the emails and hits rolling in on the subject of Derek Powazek’s new site, Pixish.

Like other posters, I hold Derek in high regard so his waffly stance – professing to be against spec yet promoting spec – was a confusing surprise.

Note: For those interested in the whole back and forth, the growing conversation can be found at pixish – Google Blog Search. And a rolling conversation in the comments can be found at MetaFilter – Pixish Tantamount to Spec Work?

But let’s start out with CatCubed – Pixish, web2.0 spec work.

What is Pixish you might ask? Well according to the site Pixish works as follows.

1. Create an Assignment. Ask for what you want.
2. Get Submissions. People create and submit their work.
3. Peer Review. Community voting helps find the best.
4. Pick Winners. Select your favorites and download.
5. Rewards! Winners get published and paid.

I.E., Pixish’s business model is to use Web2.0 to encourage spec work. You and a bunch of other artists do a bunch of work and maybe the client likes it and you get paid. Actually it’s worse than spec work as on Pixish, all you get is a fragging prize.

Then we’ll have BeckleyWorks with I Beg to Differ. Pixish is Work On Spec.

Derek has put up a response to what he calls one concern heard loud and clear, that Pixish promotes spec. His response simply doesn’t wash.

His definition of spec work is “where large companies take advantage of designers, getting work without paying.” Actually, spec work is defined as anyone asking designers to do work without paying for it. This includes startup web sites like Pixish. By trying to pawn it off on large companies, Derek seems to be trying to create a ‘them not us’ illusion, and it’s painfully transparent. It almost seems like Derek doesn’t really know what spec work is.

Then there’s Adam Howell dot org with The Pixish logo belongs next to’spec work’ on dictionary.com

…Derek and the folks at Pixish know this. They even added a response to it on their About page. Saying, basically, “if you don’t like the idea don’t participate and, pros like you are lucky, we’re giving talented amateurs a chance to make a name for themselves”. Oh, for crying in a bucket, here we go.

Oh! And this lovely one from Alex Jones – Spec Work, Pixish, Design Contests and Unicorns.

Some believe that this is a great opportunity for budding designers to build a portfolio, but as Adam notes, “We’ve got, you know, the web. Blogs. Youtube. digg/reddit/lots of other lowercase social sites. There are no longer just three ways to showcase your talent – there are three bajillion. And if you aren’t getting noticed, sorry, you either aren’t trying hard enough or you suck.”

Timmmmyboy comes into it with Pixish | Bringing down the value of creative design.

Pixish is a new site that recently launched by Derek Powazek that promotes the ability to bring artists and publishers together. The idea is that there are tons of budding creative artists on the web and why not bring them together and have them compete over your ideas for the ‘prize’ of having their work chosen in a bid.

This is straight up spec work and it’s something I (and many designers) have a big problem with, and it’s a problem that doesn’t seem to be going away.

No Commercial Potential chimes in with My Totally Reactionary, Ill-Thought-Out First Take on Pixish.

My original question when I first read about it was: “was letsallworkonspec.com already taken?”

Prizes? Designers and photographers who are worth the trouble do not want prizes. They want to get paid. I would maybe be very interested in submitting something for JoCo’s t-shirt, but you know what? I already have three iPods. And I already bought all his music. Even if I had a design the internet hordes loved, I would mostly win redundancy.

Adam Howell dot org follows up with A follow-up on Pixish.

Stock photo sites are one thing. Pixish is something completely different. And sorry but until I, and I’m sure several others, see otherwise, I won’t be convinced of anything else.

Update: Shortly after this post was published Derek announced he was taking down all the logo, header design and template assignments, many of which I had mentioned in this post, and would only be accepting pictures and illustrations on Pixish from now on.

So, what does that make Pixish now? A spec site for Photographers and Illustrators?

What do YOU think?

22 responses to “Pixish = Spec-ish?”

  1. A spec site for Photographers and Illustrators is just as bad, if not worse.

    A very good friend of mine is an illustrator who is working full-time in the fantasy art market. Bearing in mind how long each piece takes him to do, and the price he is getting for it, his hourly rate is about half what he would make flipping burgers and below the legal minimum wage in this country.

    And it’s not the fault of the company he’s working for, whose boss is also a good friend; they are paying the going rate for artwork in that industry, as it’s full of ‘talented amateurs’ half my mate’s age, who still live at home and don’t have bills to pay, and who are willing to work for next-to-nothing to see their art in the products. Other companies in the industry pay the same (or less) for that type of work, so there is nothing he can do to ‘earn’ more.

    There is simply no way he can make a career out of that type of art, despite being one of the best in the world, as that particular market has been completely devalued by spec-work and ‘competitions’.

    Good illustration fulfils a brief, and has to be ‘on-message’ for the project for which it has been done. So while one person may make enough to cover the food and bills for the week on Pixish, all the rejected artists have worked for nothing, often creating a piece of work that couldn’t be re-sold elsewhere as it is too specific to the brief they were competing for.

    Illustration, despite Derek’s stance, is even more prone to the effects of spec work, as the initially delivered item pretty much has to be the finished item; at least with design you can do a visual or mock-up to win the business before you have to complete the final goods. With illustration, especially in a ‘competition’ scenario, to stand the best chance of ‘winning’ you need to supply the final, top-quality goods to fairly represent what you are capable off. In effect, doing the work for free to even be considered; the very definition of spec work.

    Derek should realise that he is doing nothing less than screwing over his audience and market, and driving down the value of the work for fellow creatives, whether they participate or not. This site need to have the plug pulled before he loses what respect he has and he damages the industry he is trying to support even more.

  2. I couldn’t agree more with everything said here. The stance Derek is taking is a bit insulting in that photography and illustration work is not as time-consuming or valued enough to be effected by the negative aspects of spec work. If anything I feel that the popularity of DSLRs and graphic programs has begun to devalue true photography and illustration work. The masters will always stand out but when the field gets crowded with amateurs with expensive cameras and computers that click a few buttons a produce something it makes it that much more difficult for true artists to compete. There is less of a prerogative on the part of the artist to even participate in this type of carnival where the work they do is less appreciated.

  3. When I posted the above I was skimming what was on offer.

    But now, with more time at hand, I’ve just spent a fair amount of time reading blog posts and comments about Derek’s new venture.

    It saddens me that a man I admire, a man holding value in the design industry, has produced a product that is now being compared with LogoWorks and Sitepoint.


  4. Oh, so Derek now realizes that it’s not right to ask graphic designers to do spec work, but hey it’s great for photographer
    s and illustrators.

    As a freelance photographer of over 25 years, I find this insulting.

    Boycott Derek.

    Maybe when it’s time for him to pay his mortgage or rent he can give them a “prize”.

  5. The problem I have been having with this since the news broke a couple of days ago is getting my head around why a guy who is a pretty well-known and respected person in the creative industry (and happens to be married to a well-respected photographer) would flip like this and get into spec.

    The conclusion I’ve come to is that maybe the idea Derek had in mind for Pixish is not quite what he and his team delivered so far. He mentions in some follow-up comments that he wants Pixish to become a marketplace, and he frequently mentions creating new opportunities for paid work as Pixish rolls out new features and improvements. As it stands now, Pixish is still a spec site, even with the removal of design contests. But going forward, I think the guy could pull this off if he repositioned Pixish as something more of a marketplace.

    I’m not sure what the solution is, but I do get the feeling that there is hope for Pixish if Derek applies a more fair and proper business model to the site and creates a real creative marketplace.

    If Pixish can change course and leave the spec work behind, there is hope. Otherwise the site is doomed to become just another spec-gone-wild SitePoint-esque wasteland.

  6. Case in point: As long as assignments at Pixish are still called “assignments” and are phrased like “This assignment will be to photograph a…,” then this will still be spec work. If Derek wants to reposition the site as a marketplace, how he phrases things and allows site users to phrase things needs to change dramatically. The site is not the marketplace for pre-existing photos and illustrations stored on harddrives that Derek envisions as long as they are comissioning new work on spec in this way.

  7. Mike,

    “The problem I have been having with this since the news broke a couple of days ago is getting my head around why a guy who is a pretty well-known and respected person in the creative industry (and happens to be married to a well-respected photographer) would flip like this and get into spec.”

    I’m with you there.

    Above I wrote that this was a ‘confusing surprise’.

    And after going through and rereading what he’s written in response, and what others have written since, I’m getting the same feeling as you.

    That what he intended and what was produced are two different animals so he’s peddling feet first as fast as he can.

    For me, it just doesn’t make sense for Derek to climb down from there. To this. No, not at all.

  8. This concept reminds me a lot of another, somewhat similar site that popped up awhile back. It is called BootB. Has anyone here heard of it? We had the admin come in on one of the forums I’m around telling us about the concept, and it smacks of spec work on a large scale, hidden under the guise of non-designer, amateur involvement in concept development. They tout the fact that they are democratic and unprejudiced toward country, social standing, or age.

    What really offends me personally is their condemnation of the professional design and concept development community as ‘old world,’ with designers and creators clinging to ancient advertising system structures in order to continue making the vast amounts of money that they are by exploiting said system all while displaying a disconcerting lack of creativity. I feel that is unfair to all of the designers I know who love design, but are struggling to make ends meet due to places much like these who are farming out work to design contests.

    The site is http://www.bootb.com/en/

    What are your thoughts?

  9. Chad, I think the BootB concept is flawed in that it makes the assumption that quality and cost are not related. The truth is that if someone wants professional work of a certain quality level, it will cost a certain amount. The whole “you get what you pay for” notion is so true when it comes to design, photography, illustration, etc. Sure someone can get really cheap/free photography done at a place like Pixish, but if you want a professional looking image created for an advertising campaign, you are just going to have to hire someone to do it properly. You can search the web for days on end trying to find a cheap/free alternative, but nothing will ever compare to how a pro photographer will approach your peoject, understand the goals, and take it seriously enough to produce good work.

    What is someone’s incentive to spend more than an hour on a Pixish project if there is little chance of getting anything out of it? There is no chance that a Pixish/BootB/SitePoint/etc project will ever compare to a pro job. BootB believes the opposite, that for some bizarre reason an amateur with no incentive to do great work will somehow create something on par with a contracted professional.

  10. > “business” that needs photos for your website, or a –>> “magazine” that needs an illustration, or just someone who wants to hold a contest …

    1 – 7 illustrations
    $10 per picture, all rights included

    20 illustrations for a Zombie Novel
    $10 per illustration, a rush job

  11. From a recent Craigslist post: It seems the roaches of the Pixish busienss plan have been cloned and their spawn is in the wild.

    Attention All Graphic Designers!
    Reply to: (see message body)
    Date: 2008-02-14, 9:10AM

    You’re invited to submit your logo designs and concepts for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books’ new comics and graphic novels area, “THE COMIX STRIP”.

    No pay, but logo artist will receive credit any time logo is used in advertising, signage, or other collateral.
    For more details, visit http://www.thecomixstrip.com

  12. “The artist will be credited and linked in the “About the Story” page, along with 5 physical copies of the limited edition print version (after the novella is completed). Negotiation for paid compensation TBD upon initial reception and sales. (Meaning, if we make it big, I will talk with you about getting you a cut of the pie!)”

    Oh dear … it’s so classic.

  13. Does not change the onerous terms for those that enter and do not win.

    Interesting qualifications (from their web site):

    RESTRICTIONS: All entries become the property of the Los Angeles Times Media Group, who will have the irrevocable right to use the entries for any purpose in any medium in perpetuity. Entrants waive any claims for ownership, royalty, right or remuneration for use of their contest entries. Entrants also agree to allow use of their names, voices, photographs, likenesses, and contest entries in any medium for advertising and promotional purposes in connection with this contest.

    Which means win or lose you give up all rights to your work product.

  14. I read Dereks new explanation and I can’t see where it’s any different than the old. It’s just a longer explanation is all.

    All he did was clarify that Pixish is a site offering clients a place to go where they don’t have to pay for all the work created for their projects.

    Where the illustrators and photographers joining in, are creating new work on the speculation of a return

    What does that sound like to you?

    Pixish, Spec Work, and Graggers

    “Also note that the power relationship has changed. Clients aren’t taking advantage of designers in secret.”

    So instead, they are taking advantage in public?

    And he’s STILL insisting that creating new illustrations and photography for clients is not working on spec, while creating new designs is.

    How is that?

  15. His new “refinement” of his company’s goals is still horse shyte.
    I think that anyone who creates a composition for commercial use without get paid is doing spec work, photographers and illustrators included.

    regardless of whether or not the artist retains the rights to their work, what’s to stop a client from telling the winning artist to incorporate some of the other themes they’ve been privy to? or does Powazek truly believe that a client will take whatever they’re given without question?

  16. Thanks so VERY much for this site.

    While it’s generally an IT rag, I regularly read The Register for its coverage of technologies and software pertinent to my work in illustration and design. One issue they like to drive home again and again is that of “user-generated content”, such as ad agencies’ use of sites like Flickr to lift fotos for use without pay — let alone credit — in major national and international ad campaigns (see the recent brouhaha over stolen/uncredited fotos in a T-Mobile campaign). The Register’s reporters in this context, with brutal honesty, have referred to this whole “user-generated content” situation with Web 2.0 as “Sweatshop 2.0”, and rightly so.

    Thank Dog the Web 2.0 bubble is, apparently, finally about to burst.

  17. “BootB believes the opposite, that for some bizarre reason an amateur with no incentive to do great work will somehow create something on par with a contracted professional.”

    What happens if that amateur is talented and looking for a break? We all have to start somewhere.

    Spec work is a fact of life for creative people. Unpublished writers write entire books without a contract, then send them to publishers. Young filmmakers produce short films to show to studios. Freelance writers write articles, then send them to magazines to try and sell them. Musicians record demos. Artists create their art, THEN try to sell it.

    The key point is that, while most people need to do some pro bono or spec work to get a portfolio going and start getting work, professionals can’t survive on it.

    Truly talented people – as well as those with a good business brain – will be the ones who make a career of it. People who aren’t good will have to scratch around with the good amateurs and newbies looking to make a name for themselves.

    As a freelance writer, I face more competition than designers, as everyone can write – or thinks they can. Yet I earn a living and don’t worry about ads on Craigslist or bloggers picking up the odd paid bit of work. I accept that there are different scales of clients. Small businesses will not pay good rates for writing work when they can get it cheaper. The key is to cultivate good, long-term clients and personal relationships with large businesses.

    And I started out by writing for free. This whole No-Spec idea is flawed. Designers and writers MUST do spec work to get started because you can’t get work until you have a body of work to show!

  18. “And I started out by writing for free. This whole No-Spec idea is flawed. Designers and writers MUST do spec work to get started because you can’t get work until you have a body of work to show!”

    I think this reveals how deeply you misunderstand the concept of spec work.

    A portfolio does not have to be generated from “working” relationships. Mine is almost 100% comprised of projects that interest me personally, not work I’ve done prior (that’s what a resume is for).

    Furthermore, many artists, designers and writers routinely work for free John Scalzi being an excellent of the lattermost.

    The difference is, there is no expectation that he will do so for credit, for a prize, or for any other benefit other than it amuses him to do so.

    The expectation of sites like Pixish is substantially different. They expect you will work for free, in exchange for a largely worthless gratuity of “credit” or a “prize.” If, that is, your work “wins.”

  19. @ Tom: had to remark on what you said: “Spec work is a fact of life for creative people. Unpublished writers write entire books without a contract, then send them to publishers. Young filmmakers produce short films to show to studios. Freelance writers write articles, then send them to magazines to try and sell them. Musicians record demos. Artists create their art, THEN try to sell it.”

    You’re right that writers, for instance, do work on spec all the time. BUT spec for writers and spec in the illustration/design world are completely and totally different. When a writer writes an article or book on spec and then sends it out to potential buyers, if those buyers turn it down the writer still owns 100% of his work. The publisher turned it down and that’s the end: the work comes back to the writer and he can do whatever he wants to next with it. There are rarely any illustration/design spec “jobs” where this is the case. If you look at most any spec competition or RFSs, all that I’ve ever seen say you relinquish all future rights in perpetuity EVEN IF you do not “win.” So the promoter can keep your work and use it for whatever profit they want, forever, without compensating or even crediting the artist. For a publisher or magazine to do the same upon turning down a spec manuscript is unheard of.

    I am not familiar with how music companies do it, but I’d be very surprised to learn that anyone who submits a demo tape gives up all rights to that music.

    There’s nothing wrong artists creating art and then trying to sell it. But giving up their ownership to companies who did NOT buy it but merely looked is a smarmy underhanded practice that must be stopped.

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